A big little man, Flight Lieutenant Alfred "Lew" Cody
Reading the sky
He weighed so little he was a flyweight. He weighed so little he weighed less than I do. But in every other way he was a big guy.
Defying the odds
Born in 1918, "within the sound of Bow bells", Alfred "Lew" Cody went off to serve as an ordinary seaman in the RNVR. He was twenty-one when he enlisted in the RAF, only to have his first flight end with a splash. Flying to France on September 2, 1939, at the start of the Second World War, the engine failed and his pilot was forced to ditch in the Channel.
Cody flew more sorties as the war heated up. During the Blitz,
the losses in the Blenheim force were among the highest, and Cody's aircraft was the only one of four to return from the squadron's first operation. By early June most of the original crews had been lost, and on two more occasions his was the only aircraft to return.
During the height of the Battle of Britain he repeatedly attacked the German invasion barges gathering at the Channel ports. After 35 operations he was one of a handful of survivors.
The RAF desperately needed pilots so Cody trained as one.
On his first operation as a pilot, his Blenheim was badly damaged by flak over Holland and – with most of his controls shot away and no hydraulics – he made a belly-landing back at his base. Soon afterwards he left for the Middle East.
Into the desert
. . .He flew countless resupply and casualty evacuation flights in support of the Eighth Army, using rudimentary desert landing grounds, sometimes just hours after the withdrawal of German troops. On other occasions, as the Army retreated, he took off as the airstrips came under enemy shell fire.
In September 1942, Cody took men of the Long Range Desert Group into Kufra Oasis, the first of a number of such operations. On the night of October 23/24, as the Battle of El Alamein began, he flew one of four Hudsons behind enemy lines. (The inspiring Telegraph piece explains why he was there and much else.)
Cody then moved into the Aegean, making numerous landings, to deliver troops and supplies to beleaguered islands and evacuating casualties as the islands fell.
In 1944 he returned to Britain to prepare with a squadron for the airborne invasion of Europe. He flew transport aircraft, dropping men of the parachute brigade, flying in supplies and bringing out the wounded. His aircraft was repeatedly badly damaged by flak. Despite several near escapes, he kept on flying right up until the last day of the war.
Cody was known on for his high spirits on the ground. He married during the war, and with his wife raised a son and daughter. After the war he became a flight instructor. Cody has died aged 91.
Ave atque Vale.